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Six cylinder Healeys

Published: 13th Sep 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Six cylinder Healeys
Six cylinder Healeys
Six cylinder Healeys
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Classic Motoring shows how best to hot up your hairy Healey

There are few sports cars more hirsute than a Healey. Whilst TVRs have a reputation of being “He-man-cars”, the Healey did all this several decades before TVRs became popular. And even now, their following is considerable – for a car which were it not for a chance meeting of Len Lord and Donald Healey shouldn’t have been so popular or well-marketed as it was, the Healey has become an icon.

By modern standards though, the Healey isn’t that quick. The torquey six-cylinder lumps may be perfect for a trip down memory lane on a wave of torque, but most modern hatches will get from A to B more quickly. Here’s how to redress the balance a bit.


First thing to check out on a Healey is the chassis. See that the main rails are straight, for even a tiny prang can throw them out.  It’s also not brilliant at resisting the elements – Healeys were not rustproofed. Periodically look at the B posts and behind the sills – mud becomes trapped around the chassis outriggers. Also check the condition of the inner wings, floorpan and bulkheads. These are stressed sections welded to the chassis and can thus be considered integral to the car’s strength.


Did you know that the final Healey had 50 per cent more power than the original 100/6? So the most obvious approach for early cars is to replicate the factory upgrades. This means the post 1957 cylinder head for early six cylinders as a minimum, and after that a 3000 spec engine is a worthwhile upgrade for 2.6 cars. Triple carbs and the uprated 3000 MKII camshaft are further ‘stock’ ways to boost power, and the total gain should be somewhere in the region of 30 per cent. 3000 MKIIIs reverted to a pair of carbs, this time SU HD8s rather than the HD6s of previous models. It’s possible to combine MKII and MKIII setups to create a unit with three HD8s. Fitting a MKIIII camshafts to earlier engines is a good value step.

Classic Motoring spoke to legendary Healey campaigner John Chatham. Believed “uncontrollable” by Geoffrey Healey when younger, Chatham now runs a business dedicated to the maintenance and improvement of the breed. £30,000 would build a full race-spec engine pushing out over 250bhp, claims Chatham, but you needn’t spend all that. A nice cam, alloy head, and six branch exhaust will work wonders – and if you couple these with a balanced block and a triple carb setup you’d have a reliable 210bhp from an engine costing one third of race spec that’s nice and road usable, too.

Rawles Motorsport agrees that this is feasible – though it would be looking at between 180bhp and 200bhp for a fast road engine, and circa 260bhp from full race spec; Mallory distributor, lightweight engine plates, and ported, gas-flowed head would be its start. “We’d also fit twin SU HD8s, not the triples – and for the ultimate in performance and handling we’d build up an engine around an alloy block,” claims Andrew Cluett, “The key thing is to set the cars up on a rolling road like we have, as that way you’re getting the optimum performance from the engine.”

If you’re increasing the power, an improved cooling system would be a very wise move. Rawles sells uprated radiators for £287 on an exchange basis, which should help prevent your hot Healey from becoming TOO hot to handle. Ditto aluminium sumps are also available to aid cooling as well as providing a bit more stiffness to the block. Higher capacity oil pumps are a further useful improvement as are fitting an oil cooler and a spin-on oil filter conversion.


If there’s any weakness in your car’s chassis and you intend to compete with it or keep the car for a long time then, replace it. Costing from £3950 (Denis Welch), it’s the most worthwhile thing you can do if putting more power through the car and will also improve the handling at the same time.

Healey legend Chatham believes a few simple upgrades to a good chassis will transform the car. “We’d go back to a bare chassis, strengthen the suspension mountings as with the Works cars, maybe fit an uprated front anti roll bar, and alter the spring rates.” Chatham is similarly simplistic in terms of the drivetrain. “Too many people believe you need to uprate the driveshafts – it’s not necessary. Straight cut gears tend to have improved ratios (Denis Welch, £895, Tulip or Sebring spec), and an overdrive would be useful. I’d fit an uprated diff too, such as the Quaife limited slip one we sell (John Chatham Cars, £1014). You could lighten the body or even build a full alloy engine if you really wanted to improve the handling, but you can get excellent results without going this far.”

Andrew Cluett of Rawles Motorsport favours an alternative approach. Firmer suspension would complement a chassis stiffened and braced everywhere, and whilst the standard diff would remain in situ Rawles will sell you a five speed conversion kit utilising Toyota Supra parts. Budget £1800 for the kit, and an extra thousand if you don’t have a gearbox lying around.

The standard ‘box with overdrive is okay for many folks. A sturdier clutch on post ‘62 cars can be obtained cheaply by fitting an XJ6 cover along with a Land Rover SII/SIII, we’re reliably informed. Highest axle ratio available is 3.45:1 which was fitted to non overdtive cars. A Quaife limited slip diff is optional but costs well over £1000.

The standard lever arm dampers are restrictive for anything more than lively road use but telescopic conversions are around if originality isn’t important. Take your pick from an assortment of uprated dampers and springs front and rear – the latter always worthwhile given the notorious sagging that can occur but don’t lower the car for road use or you’ll never get past a sleeping policeman.

The braking system on these Healeys was good, with discs at the front of all 3000s and an optional servo on 3000MKIIs, standardised for MKIII. Kits can be bought to convert 100/6s to discs – and we’d always recommend EBC Greenstuff pads as a direct replacement for the originals. Price for these ranges from about £40 to about £80 depending upon model. Lotus Cortina items are another route but they’re not cheap anymore.

Standard rear shoes should be adequate, but you can go further. We’d also recommend new tyres all round to complete the pep up – speak to a Healey specialist for their favourite types and handling traits.

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